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The Leader

Applying Disciplinary Concepts & Tools:
Preliminary Findings From NCSS’s First MOOC
Corbin Moore
Social Studies Instructional
Coach and English as a Second Language Coordinator
for the Hamilton City School
District in Hamilton, Ohio
Scott Petri
Coordinator and small school
principal in the Los Angeles


his summer the National
Council for the Social

Open Online Course (MOOC)
to social studies teachers. More
than 1,800 teachers enrolled
in Improving Historical Reading and Writing. There were an
average of 13,000 weekly page
views of course content and
approximately 600 participations, or actions taken, in the
course each week. The robust
activity on the discussion boards
revealed that Dimension Two of
the College, Career, and Civic
Life (C3) Framework for Social
Studies State Standards --Applying Disciplinary Concepts and
for some social studies teachers
to navigate. The C3 Framework
describes concepts and skills
instead of prescribing which
NCSS believes educators can
deepen the understanding of curricular content through the consistent application of tools and
lenses from the four core Social

Studies disciplines of civics, economics, geography and history.
This article will highlight some
of course dialogue that centered
on the quality of C3 Framework
professional development, the
instructional shifts demanded by
the C3, the classroom balance
between content and disciplinary
literacy, and how effective social
studies instruction develops students’ literacy skills.
C3 Professional Development
After viewing a clip from Dr.
Kathy Swan's C3 Framework
Overview (
twd39evw), 115 viewers responded to questions embedded
in the video, including an openended question which asked
teachers to grade the professional
development they have been
given by their school/district on
the C3 Framework. The majority of educators (50%) rated this
professional development with
an F. The next most common
grade was a D, given by 21% of
responding participants. 16 percent of course participants gave
it a C, 10% a B, and only 4% of
those responding gave As. Overall, this sample of teachers gave
their schools and districts a 1.0
on a 4.0 scale when it comes to
delivering professional development around the C3 Framework.
That 71% of respondents gave
a grade of poor or failing suggests schools and districts are
struggling to provide meaningful

professional development and
that National Social Studies Supervisors Association (NSSSA)
members need to take the lead in
high quality professional development on the C3 Framework for
Social Studies teachers nationally. A 2014 Gates Foundation
survey of 1,600 teachers revealed
that ideal professional development experiences should be
relevant, interactive, delivered
by someone who understands
teachers and their experiences,
sustained over time and treats
teachers as professionals.
C3 Instructional Shifts
How has the College, Career,
and Civic Life (C3) Framework
shifted the delivery and structure
of social studies instruction? (162
replies). It appears that the C3
Framework has been enthusiastically endorsed by the teachers in this MOOC. Only 18 out
of 162 comments (11%) were
negative. The 144 positive comments revealed that educators
are optimistic about these shifts
and they are eager to collaborate
what type of academic activities
occur in C3 classrooms. A summary of these shifts can be found
Teachers who commented
that the C3 Framework has required positive shifts said things

Volume 29, Number 2

provides students with
opportunities to not only
collaborate and problem
allows students to ask
questions, seek answers
and formulate ways to
show understanding
focuses students on asking compelling questions
and grappling with big
gives students a chance
to take responsibility for
their own learning
engages students in activities that have a purpose
puts students at the center
of the system, not teachers
strengthens students’ ability to build an argument
and gather evidence
On the other hand, teachers
in the C3 made comments similar
It will be very scary for
some teachers not to have
the right answers.
Teaching students to ask
compelling questions
when they have had little
experience with that before is daunting.
Everyone, students and
teachers, must think outside the box in this framework.


Social Studies-Civics,
Economics and Geography can’t be taught in
isolation. It’s not how
historians work.
It’s a big challenge to help
students develop complex
questions to get to the
larger ideas.
Several participants mentioned that there is a need to
ticipants were overwhelmingly
positive in their comments about
learning to apply the disciplinary
concepts and tools from the C3
Framework, neither the quality
nor the quantity of professional
development currently provided
appears to be meeting the demand of Social Studies educators
who responded to the framework
overview. We are hopeful that the
gaps in professional development
for Social Studies teachers eager
to embrace the C3 Framework.
Balancing Content and Disciplinary Literacy
After a module on building
literacy in Social Studies featuring readings by Hirsch (2003),
Ogle, Klemp & McBride (2007),
Shanahan & Shanahan (2008),
and Wineburg & Reisman (2014),
227 participants attempted to
articulate an appropriate balance
between content literacy and disciplinary literacy for the HistorySocial Science classroom. Six of
these responses were off topic
and not included in this analysis.
The remaining 221 responses
were coded as Favoring Disci-

plinary Literacy (32%), Balance
(32%), Favoring Content Literacy
(19%), and No Stance (18%).
Discussion board posts that were
coded as balance were further
subdivided into responses making
a prescribed balance, even, both,
can’t separate, and informed balance.
Responses favoring disciplinary literacy said things like
Teachers are frustrated
with the lack of content
literacy and it certainly
hinders our time spent
of disciplinary literacy
where the true study of
history takes place.
think that disciplinary
literacy is more of a hook
for my students.
To not include disciplinary literacy at the younger
ages is a disservice.
Responses falling into the
balance category included
Balance is an awkward
concept for this question. It implies an either/
or dichotomy. Pairing or
matching seems more
applicable. What skill
should students apply, or
practice with what content
and what source? Getting
those aligned seems more
You cannot separate the
content from the skill of
history. If you are just
testing the content, you
are perhaps testing reading comprehension and


The Leader

not social studies knowledge.
A professional educator
makes decisions of balance for whole classes at

The focus on coverage
and testing often deprive
teachers of the time
needed to move beyond
content literacy into disciplinary literacy.

decisions for individuals. This means, unfortunately, that there are no
shortcuts of formulas for
determining the balance
of content and disciplinary literacy.

Patterns emerged from this
analysis that revealed two lines of
thinking: a) disciplinary literacy
should be emphasized in the
higher grades; b) disciplinary
literacy could do more to deepen
understanding in primary grades.
NSSSA members should increase
Responses favoring content
these conversations in order to
literacy said things like,
clarify how teachers can modify
their pedagogical practices to
I have to focus more on
teach content literacy and discicontent, students who
plinary literacy together. Teachers
come to me do not have
are extremely interested in PD
the background knowlthat explores this area. There are,
edge to use disciplinary
however, fault lines. One of our
department meetings recently
Content literacy serves as deteriorated into a red-faced
the foundation and spring- screaming match with an angry
board for disciplinary lit- teacher declaring: “I am not an
eracy. Once students have English teacher. I am not going
a grasp on the transferable to teach reading and writing.
literacy skills, such as
I teach content. At some point
decoding, summarizing,
the students need to learn conparaphrasing and etc.,
tent!” Thus, it seems as if there
then it is most important
is a great need for creating PD
to build on that skills such that can show teachers with this
as sourcing and contextu- mindset how they can increase
the amount of disciplinary litOther respondents felt
that disciplinary literacy is not measured by
standardized tests and
shouldn’t be emphasized.
Many teachers focus on
content over disciplinary
literacy because it [Disciplinary Literacy] requires
giving up some control in
the classroom.

instruction or embarking on a
steep learning curve when teaching reading and writing skills
using historical content.
Effective History-Social Studies
this article also centered on the
role of Social Studies in literacy
development. Participants were

asked how effective history and
social studies instruction might
help develop students' literacy
skills and break the "fourth-grade
slump." There were a total of
352 replies comprising over
52,000 words that were analyzed.
Common themes emerged centering on reading instruction,
content vocabulary, inquiry-based
methods, and tension between
social studies and English instructional programs.
A number of posts included statements like:
tent reading fundamentals.
expose students to highinterest informational
texts multiple times.
the nuances of historical
texts as opposed to literary texts.
curiosity in reading will
and emphasized at all
grade levels.
Many teachers in this module
described successful Sustained
Silent Reading (SSR) programs
that were implemented in their
schools. Teachers were very
pleased with these programs and
found they resulted in increased
levels of engagement among
students. Unfortunately, many elementary teachers openly admitted paying short shrift to Social

Volume 29, Number 2


Studies content and focusing on
the tested subjects of English and
Math. Several reported that they
had been directed by their administrators to stop teaching Social
Studies. These administrative
ies classes make up 55% of a
students academic vocabulary, or
Ogle, Klemp & McBride’s (2007)
assertion that wide reading is a
major contributor to differences
in children’s vocabularies (p.32).

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statements like:






blank reading worksheets and
quizzes discourage students from
having a deep and active conversation with the text. Students are
simply “reading to pass,” rather



A doctoral student in the
MOOC was also working on a
dissertation that integrates dystopian and utopian novels into social studies instruction noted that
these teaching tools invigorated
both English and History courses.
Students reading these works had
lively and engaging discussions
regarding what happens when
governments become tyrannical.
These students could easily make
connections to current events
where our country is struggling
to create a world that is equitable
and just. This research suggests
that historians should engage in
“civic imagination” where their
works explore possibilities instead of remaining static observers. Instead of looking to the past,
this high school teacher urges
his fellow history teachers to do
more imagining and planning for
the future to make history and
social studies more relevant to
students’ lives. Finally, several

than “reading to learn.”
Hirsch claims that in order
to understand and derive meaning from a text,
students need to know at
least 90% of the vocabulary
that they encounter. Ogle,
Klemp & McBride (2007)
maintain that a student’s
vocabulary growth depends
on multiple exposures to
new words in a variety of
contexts. Learning new
words requires integration,
repetition, and meaningful
use. New terms need to be
integrated with what students already know. New
terms need to be taught and
retaught in multiple contexts. Students need to use
new terms in ways that are
meaningful to them. Many
participants commented
that the increased use of
classroom discussions are
helpful with vocabulary
acquisition. Commonali-

not exposed to a
set of challenging
words or explicitly
taught vocabulary,
then they will
struggle when they
are asked to “read
to learn.”


Visit us at NCSS at Booth #901

the social studies
textbook for fun,
not even teachers.


The Leader

ing and interesting.

and choose-your-own-adventure stories, which are
opportunities to expand
historical knowledge and
build literacy skills simultaneously.
Teachers also found consensus in that inquiry motivates and
drives learning. They recommended a variety of inquiry-driven activities be used to expose
students to a rich vocabulary.
Popular strategies mentioned
were Historical Scene Investigations (HIS), Digging for
the Truth, and Law and Order
themed inquiry-based assignments. Teachers agreed that
students participating in historical
inquiry and investigation learn to:

seems as if ELA teachers resent
being required to teach Historywhile History-Social Science
teachers dislike being pressured
to reduce their content instruction
in order to increase literacy skills.
These teachers made comments
too much instructional
time on repetitive reading
comprehension strategies.
formal English instruction
allotted in a given school
day and expand the social
sciences and sciences to
include more experiential
learning, including guest
speakers, real and virtual
themed problem solving
subjects students and
teachers fail to make important connections, educators get bogged down
separating the subjects
from one another.

primary and secondary


alternative models that
integrate civic literacy
and historical thinking,
while also teaching about
language arts, mathematics, science, and etc.

what they have learned

question at hand
Several posts described tensions between ELA and social
studies instructional programs. It

thinking about this problem that is not framed by
a rigid assessment model.
Despite the tension between
English and Social Studies teach-

ers, over the importance of their
respective disciplines, increasing
the volume of student reading
may be the single most important
thing a teacher can do to promote
large-scale vocabulary growth.
History and social science classes
everyday classroom practices
help students build on their prior
knowledge. More widespread
adoption of this method will require a repudiation of the test and
punish culture that has dominated
education administration for the
last decade. Ideally, getting off
the standards coverage treadmill
and going “fewer and deeper” are
two goals of the Common Core
State Standards. It is unclear,
however, how states will rework
accountability systems to allow
history teachers the time and
practice to become interdisciplinary allies. Social Studies teachers
and English teachers need not
remain unintentional adversaries competing against each other
for scarce school site resources.
NSSSA professional development
should concentrate on opportunities to combine Social Studies
and ELA instruction in a collegial
and collaborative environment
that unites the disciplines in
meaningful student-driven inquiry.
The C3 Framework posits that
consistent application of disciplinary concepts and tools from
the four core disciplines of civics,
economics, geography and history leads to deeper and enduring
understanding of Social Studies

Volume 29, Number 2

content. Classroom teachers often
struggle in balancing not only
content literacy and disciplinary literacy, but also serving the
needs of students with varying
abilities, engagement, and motivation. NCSS’s MOOC provided
classroom practitioners a forum
to engage in meaningful dialogue
over the direction of HistorySocial Studies instruction. This
experience has shown that there
is increasing demand for high
quality professional development
that is not being met by schools
and districts. In response to this
lack of supply, many educators
have turned to digital education.
According to a two-year,
joint Harvard/MIT investigation,
nearly forty percent of MOOC
participants were teachers (Ho et
al., 2015). Petri's descriptive case
study (forthcoming) investigated
how teachers (N=1,221) valued
the professional development
they experienced in two Massive
Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
compared to the professional
development (PD) experiences
they had at their school sites and/
or districts. Completers valued
the MOOC PD more favorably;
found the materials superior and
reported levels of collegiality,
collaboration and rigor higher
than those generally experienced
in school site, or district PD.
When compared with the prelimiMOOC, this suggests NSSSA
members should experiment with
the format to supplement their
face-to-face professional development programs. This aligns
with a Gates Foundation (2014)


use of self-guided online resources and their desire to work
together to focus on planning,
designing, and delivering instruction, should provide directions
for future teacher professional
Lastly, the authors recognize
that many NSSSA members want
to engage in applying research
while implementing new programs and supports. We would
like to make the data from our
discussion boards available to
anyone seeking to improve Social
Studies instruction. Teachers are
demonstrating a willingness to
implement inquiry-based instruction and increase student literacy
skills, however, they are unsure
how to do this effectively. The
NSSSA should work with supervisors at the state and local
level to provide professional
development for SS teachers. We
can also challenge Supervisors
to engage their state education
department, legislature, and local
school boards on the importance
of civic education and the potenstudies on literacy achievement
Feel free to contact us or and thank you
for all you do to improve HistorySocial Science instruction.
Gates Foundation. (2014). Teachers know best: Teachers’ views
on professional development. The
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (December 5, 2014). Seattle,
WA: Accessed on at March 15,
2015 at http://collegeready.gates-

Hirsch, E. D. (2003). Reading
comprehension requires knowledge—of words and the world.
American Educator, 27(1), 10-13.
Ho, A. D., Chuang, I., Reich, J.,
Coleman, C., Whitehill, J., Northcutt, C., Williams, J. J., Hansen,
J., Lopez, G., & Petersen, R.
(2015). HarvardX and MITx:
Two years of open online courses
(HarvardX Working Paper No.
10). Accessed on April 2, 2015.
Marra, R. M., Moore, J. L., &
Klimczak, A. K. (2004). Content
analysis of online discussion forums: A comparative analysis of
protocols. Educational Technology Research and Development,
52(2), 23-40.
Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for
academic achievement: Research
on what works in schools. ASCD.
Alexandria, VA.
Ogle, D., Klemp, R., and McBride, B. (2007). Building Literacy in Social Studies: Strategies
for Improving Comprehension
and Critical Thinking. Ch. 3 (pp.
33-52). ASCD. Alexandria, VA.
Sinclair, S., & Rockwell, G.
(2012). Teaching Computer-Assisted Text Analysis: Approaches
to Learning New Methodologies.
Digital Humanities Pedagogy.
Accessed at
on July 21, 2015.